NUC, the years won’t make a doctor
With so much disparagement of the nation’s education in recent times on account of an often-decried crash of its standard, the National Universities Commission (NUC) would not have provoked so much controversy if it had predicated its new policy on medical education on the need to train better doctors. The NUC would have probably made a strong case if it had articulated a vision of its planned policy being aimed at redeeming the nation’s medical education from the poor quality in which it is reportedly mired.
In a lecture at the matriculation and inauguration of the University of Medical Science, Ondo, Ondo State, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, disclosed that medical students would now spend a minimum of 10 to 11 years in the university. Explaining further, he noted that the 2015 document for the training of medical students requires that students would spend four years studying basic sciences before spending another seven years in the medical school.
If the new policy elicits opposition, this would be due first to the commission’s recourse to its ambiguous defence– the need for the medical students to mature psychologically. What are the NUC’s parameters for arriving at psychological maturity? Or does the NUC want us to accept as a fact that two different persons can be at the same level of psychological maturity at the same time? What would determine the levels of maturity of different persons may range from their backgrounds, motivations to existing circumstances. And this is why one may find an 18-year-old student with a higher degree of maturity and motivation than his or her counterpart who is 30-year old.
By drawing our attention to psychological maturity after over 50 years of medical education in the country, what the NUC is not saying in clear terms is that all the medical doctors our universities produced in this long period were not mature enough because their training did not take a minimum of 10 to 11 years. Yet, the quality of the nation’s medical education at a time was so globally competitive that even foreigners were coming here to have it.
But the doctors produced at that time did not spend a minimum of 11 years in the university. And even now, despite the frequently bemoaned plummeting standard of education, the products of Nigerian universities excel whenever they are outside the shores of the nation. Their lecturers even trounce their colleagues in other parts of the so-called better developed world when they are on international programmes like Fulbright fellowship.
True, our universities trail behind their counterparts in other parts of the world during global rankings. Yet, there should be a better approach to improving the quality of the standard of the nation’s education rather than its wholesale denigration by those who left the universities decades ago and who do not appreciate the difficulties teachers face in working in our abysmally disincentivised educational environment .
The policy of the NUC may have been informed by the fact that in the United States and Canada, medicine is only available as a graduate degree. But it is equally true that in the United Kingdom and Australia, one could go for medical education after leaving secondary school. We find it hard to understand how the extension of the years of study would redound to the quality of medical training if the required facilities are non-existent. For our teaching universities as they exist today are not sufficiently funded and staffed. Instead of being the centres for cutting edge medical research, they refer minor medical cases to India where hapless Nigerians lose their vital organs to predatory and fraudulent businessmen who pose as medical experts. The increase in the years of study would not automatically stop the medical students’ teachers and other workers from going on strike over their neglected welfare.
Would this plan guarantee electricity in the teaching hospitals? In fact, due to frequent strikes in the universities, some medical students spend up to 12 years before getting their degrees. With the new policy, a medical student may now spend up to 15 years in the university if the academic calendar is riven by debilitating strikes. Thus if the NUC is genuinely interested in improving the quality of medical education, it should begin by providing the needed facilities and environment for teaching and learning.
Is the NUC conflating the issues of poor medical education with quackery in the medical profession? If there are fake doctors who turn their supposed clinics or hospitals into slaughter houses, should this be blamed on the quality of medical education in the country? The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) should rather find a more efficient way of checking quackery among its members.
In the past, law and medicine were regarded as elite courses. But with more educational opportunities, with more people going for these courses, such a notion of elitism has been rendered nugatory. But with the plan of the NUC, medical education may be reverted to its elitist mould. Poor parents who would not have minded struggling, enduring great sacrifices to keep their children in the university for six years may not see why they should bear such an ordeal for over 11 years.
In overseas countries, after such rigorous and capital-intensive education, medical doctors are well-remunerated. But here, they do not get jobs, and even if they do, they are poorly paid. Some medical doctors work in up to four hospitals or clinics just to be able to pay the bills. And this is why some people after managing to pull through the medical college do not hesitate to dump their stethoscopes. They divert their talents to where they can make quick money. This is why some of them end up in business, banking and politics. One wonders therefore how these odds that are stacked against medical education would help the country to meet its need for medical personnel.
Already, the nation has a dismal doctor-patient ratio of 1:4,000 as opposed to the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 1:600.
No doubt, the NUC has so much work to do to improve the standard of education through a more thorough supervision. But before implementing its new policy, it should subject it to a more vigorous review. It should engage all stakeholders so that the plan would not be one of those policies not thoroughly processed and that would only wreck our national destiny instead of improving it. The NUC must operate within the consciousness that quality training of doctors is only possible in an environment where the right facilities are provided with adequate funding. Besides, if the plenitude of technological advancements now at our disposal have helped in medical treatment, should they not also reduce the number of years required for medical training?